Late last year and stretching early into this one, we did a major renovation on our kitchen. In the process, we started thinking about how to better organize the space, and the result was something that functioned much more efficiently. Thanks to my husband's design skills, we discovered that it was actually a much bigger room than we'd realized.
Although a renovation is a logical time to do this kind of work (a move is another), any kitchen, at any time, could benefit from the five steps below. And you may even be able to accomplish the redesign without purchasing anything new!
1) Assess. Start with the basics: how well does your kitchen work now? Make a rough sketch of where everything is kept, and you may surprise yourself by realizing that you have two places for cereal boxes and none for recycling (no wonder people are always leaving empty bottles on the counter!) Maybe you love your dishwasher by the sink so you can load it easily, but you have to walk clean dishes across the room to put them away.
2) Troubleshoot. What things bother you about the way your kitchen is now? If you can't reach the top cabinet, get a step stool you can fold up and store out of the way. If you don't have enough counter space, consider a freestanding island, or focus on making the most of your available space by storing things elsewhere.
Look to change anything that doesn't work for you. Just because your mom kept the kitchen trash under the sink doesn't mean you have to do the same; I opted for a stand-alone can that was easier to reach. And I've taken a lot of grief for opting not to use paper towels. But these things fulfill my goals. A hanging pot rack or open shelving may add visual interest and make it easier to reach what you need--or it may just get things dirty more quickly.
Think outside the box: I wanted to store my smaller utensils standing up, but canisters were expensive, so I used a spice rack (a little like this) that I'd never used for spices. Standing on its side, it gives me lots of little spots for spatulas and citrus/garlic presses. And I used to fret over the messy web of rubber bands in my kitchen drawer until a friend gave me a great, and simple idea: store them in a ball.
3) Group. Family members and guests alike will adapt to your system if you keep it simple: plastic cups, glasses and mugs are all in one cabinet, for instance. Additionally, take a realistic look at everything in your kitchen and think about other options for storage. If you only use your cake pans a couple of times a year, why not keep them in a box in the basement? If you have a small apartment, think aout storage under the bed or in the closet--or look for a coffee table or seating with hidden storage space.
To make the most of the cabinets you do have, consider adding more shelves to them. If you're storing plates on a shelf and have four inches of space above them, another shelf could give you three inches of space--enough to store trays, espresso cups or something else that's small.
4) Label. This especially applies to food: opaque storage canisters, bags in the freezer and anything you're constantly mixing up. Labeling makes it much easier to have a system for replacement and inventory, too: I keep running lists of spices I need to replace, home-canned goods in the pantry and items I need to use from the freezer in the basement. (You may get grief for this, too, but you'll also have the last laugh!)
5) Try it. Implement your new system (in stages, if necessary) and then wait a month. Is everything working? If not, don't be afraid to go back to the old way until you can find a better solution. But don't be afraid to try something else, too: sometimes
It may be that, during the organization process, you've amassed a dizzying list of new items to purchase. Try using it as a motivator: make purchases one at a time as you can afford them, after the completion of various organizational goals.